BARNSTABLE – Tom Rooney is superintendent of the Barnstable Fire District’s drinking water system, which supplies water to 3,500 to 4,500 residents of picturesque and historic Barnstable Village.
The village is bisected by Route 6A and features captains houses, the Sturgis library, the courthouse complex, and other attractions.
It is also close to the Barnstable County Fire / Rescue Training Academy and Cape Cod Gateway Airport (formerly Barnstable Municipal Airport). either or both may be the source of toxic PFAS chemicals that have entered drinking water wells – and may take $ 10 million, possibly even $ 20 million, to remove.
Fire-fighting foam is only part of it:Study reveals previously unknown PFAS contaminants in Cape Watersheds
“This is a huge burden on the installment payers without support (from state and state governments),” said Rooney, who received a $ 200,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust and a $ 1 million interest-free loan State Drinking Water Revolt Fund received.
An expensive offer:The removal of PFAS remains a top concern of Chatham City officials
What are PFAS chemicals?
PFAS is the abbreviation for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl, a group of 9,000 chemical compounds used as heat, oil and water resistant coatings in many consumer products such as cookware, food and product packaging, water and fire resistant fabrics, foils, wires and fire-fighting foam.
Their chemical bonds are so strong and stable that they are not broken down in nature and are known as “forever chemicals” that accumulate in humansTissues and have been linked to testicular, kidney, and other cancers, liver damage, higher cholesterol, decreased response to vaccines, and a variety of other diseases.
Sources are manufacturers, landfills and sewage treatment plants.
Cape’s PFAS problem more widespread than expected
After Massachusetts made mandatory testing for PFAS chemicals in drinking water systems mandatory in October, many officials did realized how widespread the problem had become. Until recently, testing technology was not able to detect PFAS down to a trillionth of a part per liter.
“Many cities have had reason to be suspicious or concerned, and the more you look, the more you find,” said Mashpee Selectman Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod.
Mashpee has dealt with PFAS contamination of some of its drinking water wells from fire fighting foam used at Otis Air National Guard Base, part of Joint Base Cape Cod. They closed many of the wells contaminated with PFAS and are now working on installing a $ 8.5 million filtration system on two drinking water wells.
Mashpee Water Superintendent Andrew Marks said the city recently sent the Air Force a letter of formal notice to cover the cost of the purification system.
Future tests with more sophisticated technologies are likely to reveal even more chemicals in drinking water, Gottlieb said.
“There will be a greater financial burden on municipal water supply systems and the state and federal government will have to help cities fill the void,” he said.
Speaking to the state-owned PFAS Interagency Task Force (chaired by Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro and Rep. Kate Hogan, D-Stow), U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, D-3rd, told the federal government that it allowed Like before the manufacture and use of these chemicals, plays a role in regulations restricting their use, cleaning up contaminated sites, and helping communities dealing with drinking water and other pollution.
State and federal lawmakers are pushing bills to limit PFAS use and pay for cleaning
“Nobody realizes the fact that these chemicals are not cheap to clean,” said Trahan, an original co-sponsor of the PFAS Action Act of 2021, recently passed by the House of Representatives with bipartisan support from two dozen Republican officials.
The bill provides for cleaning up sites that could be the source of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), two PFAS chemicals believed to be among the most dangerous. It also sets limit values ââfor air emissions, prohibits the unsafe combustion of PFAS and limits the introduction of new PFAS chemicals.
The proposed action law provides grants for water systems that deal with contamination, as well as health testing for all chemicals in the PFAS group. It also requires reporting of PFAS releases and monitoring of chemicals in drinking water.
Clean drinking water is a priority in the infrastructure law that is now being debated in the Senate, said Trahan.
Kristen Hildreth, legislative director of the National Conference on State Legislatures, said interest in dealing with PFAS had increased among statewide legislators with 196 bills in 2021, compared to 106 in 2019. The Senate infrastructure bill is worth $ 10 billion for PFAS, she said, including lending, building sewer systems, funding clean water and drinking water, and funding small and disadvantaged communities.
The effect of PFAS on human health needs further research
The EPA has been criticized for not being quick enough to regulate these chemicals. In February 2020, the EPA updated its PFAS Action Plan, saying it would regulate PFOA and PFOS, severely restrict some types of PFAS, develop methods to test for 11 additional PFAS chemicals in drinking water, fund some research, and initiate procedures for listing PFAS in his Toxic Release Inventory.
Trahan’s bill would also require the EPA to set a drinking water standard with enforcement measures.
“If we want to make meaningful progress, (municipalities) need investment from the federal government,” said Trahan.
Dr. Patrick Breysse, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, also told the task force that his agency’s mission is hampered by the lack of definitive research into the health effects of these chemicals.
“We study a lot of things that we know the effects of, but the health effects of PFAS just aren’t that clear,” he said. “Measures must be based on scientific knowledge.”
In addition, the volume of PFAS problems has shot up like mushrooms. In just seven years with the CDC, Breysse has seen the number of exams go from one to 40 or 50, with 30 to 40 scientific journal publications per month.
âThere are many avenues for exposure,â he said. “How do we differentiate between (the effects) of environmental and consumer products?”
The CDC has conducted health assessments at 40 locations, many of which focused on fire extinguishing foam. They also identified 10 communities across the country where they collect blood and urine samples and interview participants about their use of certain products and their drinking water source and habits. A second national study focuses exclusively on drinking water and another on packaging of consumer goods.
One of his greatest concerns is to advise doctors treating patients about the risks. Breysse said the CDC is working with the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine on a study that he hopes will determine the level of risk. He assumes that the study could be completed in 2022.
The public now wants to be protected from PFAS
While determining the exact effects of PFAS can take some time, municipal water system managers know the public needs to know that it is now being protected.
âWe have to deal with that. We can’t put it off, âsaid Robert Duncanson, Chatham director of natural resources. Like other Cape Towns whose spring tests revealed PFAS contamination, Chatham – where one of its wells was tested twice as high as government measures and two others showed the presence of PFAS – does not know the source of the contamination.
The city responded quickly by closing the well with the high values, introducing mandatory water use restrictions, and starting work on bringing three more wells online. The city is also considering expanding a planned new iron and manganese processing facility with PFAS removal technology. It adds about $ 3 to 5 million to equipment costs, which could run to $ 13 to 14 million, Duncanson said.
“With 6,500 residents living all year round, it’s not cheap and Chatham will seek state and federal funding,” he said.
Contact Doug Fraser at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @dougfrasercct.